Supplemental: Intellectual norms of the Washington Post!


We’ve got your elite right here:
Our gatekeepers are long gone. And alas:

Intellectually and morally, the watchdogs of our press elite have bad eyes and rotting teeth.

How bad is the work at the Washington Post? Consider what happened when Sari Horwitz—three Pulitzer Prizes!—tried to discuss Michael Brown.

Horwitz appears on this morning’s front page, sharing a byline with Kimberly Kindy. Her report is 1884 words long. It includes 44 paragraphs.

In our view, the work is amazingly bad. Whatever may have happened on the day Brown was killed, it seems to us that Sari Horwitz is pretty much getting conned.

Hard-copy headline included, this is the way she and Kindy started. The drift of the piece is quite clear:
KINDY AND HORWITZ (10/23/14): Evidence supports officer’s account of Ferguson shooting

Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought for control of the officer's gun, and Wilson fatally shot the unarmed teenager after he moved toward the officer as they faced off in the street, according to interviews, news accounts and the full report of the St. Louis County autopsy of Brown's body.

Because Wilson is white and Brown was black, the case has ignited intense debate over how police interact with African American men. But more than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson's account of events of Aug. 9, according to several people familiar with the investigation who spoke with The Washington Post.

Some of the physical evidence—including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests—also supports Wilson's account of the shooting, The Post's sources said, which casts Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer's life. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited from publicly discussing the case.
Right off the bat, right in the headline, important claims are made.

According to the headline, “evidence” support’s Officer Wilson’s account of the fatal shooting. Instantly, Horwitz and Kindy make similar claims.

“More than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson's account of events of Aug. 9,” they report. Also this:

“Some of the physical evidence...also supports Wilson's account of the shooting.”

All that may be perfectly true. Beyond that, Wilson’s account may be perfectly accurate. For ourselves, we have no way of knowing what occurred that day.

That said, how does Horwitz know the things she’s reporting in that passage? In part, she has spoken to “several people” who are “familiar with the investigation!”

In our view, “several people” aren’t very many—and Horwitz never makes any attempt to tell us who these people are, even as a general matter.

Do these “several” anonymous people have an interest in the outcome of the case? Horwitz never makes any attempt to answer that blindingly obvious question.

It seems to us that we’re already on shaky ground. But, before we go any further, a key distinction should be made:

Presumably, there were several parts to “Wilson's account of events of Aug. 9.”

You would have Wilson’s account of the initial struggle at the car. You would also have his account of the fatal shooting itself, which came later, after Wilson had gotten out of his car.

Presumably, that second event—the actual fatal shooting—is more significant than the first—the struggle at the car. We’ll only say this:

As Horwitz proceeds through her lengthy piece, she seems to spend a lot more time on the struggle at the car. She never really seems to get clear on the relative importance of these two parts of the tale.

In our view, Horwitz brings almost no focus to her lengthy piece. As she continues, she offers several odd formulations, then quickly returns to the car:
HORWITZ (continuing directly): The grand jury is expected to complete its deliberations next month over whether Wilson broke the law in confronting Brown, and the pending decision appears to be prompting the unofficial release of information about the case and what the jurors have been told.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch late Tuesday night published Brown's official county autopsy report, an analysis of which also suggests that the 18-year-old may not have had his hands raised when he was fatally shot, as has been the contention of protesters who have demanded Wilson's arrest.

Experts told the newspaper that Brown was first shot at close range and may have been reaching for Wilson's weapon while the officer was still in his vehicle and Brown was standing at the driver's side window. The autopsy found material "consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm" in a wound on Brown's thumb, the autopsy says.
Let’s start with a quibble. Wilson isn’t being investigated for “confronting” Brown. Presumably, he’s being investigated for shooting and killing Brown.

We don’t know if Wilson did anything wrong that day, but that was an odd formulation. So, in truth, is the next formulation, in which an analysis of the autopsy report “suggests” that Brown “may not” have had his hands raised when he was fatally shot.

Does that mean the analysis also suggests that he may have had his hands raised? Does that simply mean that the autopsy can’t settle that question?

Rather than work through that question, Horwitz runs back to the car, where we’re told that Brown “may” have been reaching for the gun.

Does that mean he may not have been reaching for the gun? Again, the question doesn’t get clarified.

In our view, things are going badly at this point. As she continues, Horwitz repeats a slightly puzzling quote from an expert, along with a puzzling paraphrase:
HORWITZ (continuing directly): Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco who reviewed the report for the Post-Dispatch, said it “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound.”

Melinek, who is not involved in the investigation, said the autopsy did not support those who claim Brown was attempting to flee or surrender when Wilson shot him in the street.
Let’s start with the quote from Melinek, the forensic pathologist:

It may well be that Michael Brown was reaching for Wilson’s gun when they struggled at the car. That said, did Melinek mean to suggest that this possibility has been established as a “fact?”

Last night, on The Last Word, Melinek said no one at the Washington Post called her to discuss what she said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where Horwitz found that quote. Beyond that, she seemed to say that the Post-Dispatch did a poor job reporting what she told them, which it mainly did through paraphrase.

As she continued, Horwitz offered another such paraphrase. According to Horwitz, Melinek “said the autopsy did not support those who claim Brown was attempting to flee or surrender when Wilson shot him in the street.”

That claim is completely unclear. Does it mean that the autopsy somehow shows that Brown wasn’t trying to flee or surrender? Or does it mean that the autopsy simply can’t settle that question?

Horwitz doesn’t try to say. This is terrible journalism from an undiscerning mind.

Large chunks of the Post’s lengthy report are given over to statements by various teams of lawyers. When Horwitz returns to the question at hand, her work is persistently murky.

Consider this example:
HORWITZ: Wilson's attorney, James P. Towey Jr., did not return a call seeking comment.

Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson's account, but none have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety, The Post's sources said.

The St. Louis County Police Department and the FBI are investigating the shooting, and evidence gathered by both agencies is being presented to the grand jury, which started meeting in mid-August and is expected to conclude its work early next month.
That highlighted statement could very significant, depending on what it means. Did those witnesses “provide testimony consistent with Wilson's account” of the fatal shooting?

If so, how consistent was it? Or did they provide testimony consistent with Wilson's account of what occurred at the car?

Horwitz doesn’t try to sort those questions out. Later, after additional detours, she offers this murky stew:
HORWITZ: The officer said he reached for his gun to defend himself, but Brown grabbed it and let go only after it fired twice. Two casings from Wilson's gun were recovered from the police SUV, the sources said.

After he was shot in the altercation at the vehicle, Brown fled with Johnson, and Wilson testified that he ordered Brown to stop and lower himself to the ground. Instead, Brown turned and moved toward the officer, the sources said. Wilson said he feared that Brown, who was 6-foot-4 and weighed nearly 300 pounds, would overpower him, so he repeatedly fired his gun.

Brown was shot at least six times, according to all three autopsies that have been conducted.
With that highlighted statement—in paragraph 30!—we’ve finally reached the key question. Why did Officer Wilson fire the fatal shots?

In that highlighted statement, we will assume that Horwitz is presenting Wilson’s account of what happened. Our questions:

In Wilson’s account, how many steps did Brown take toward Wilson? How far away was Brown when Officer Wilson fired? These seem like obvious questions to us, but Horwitz doesn’t seem to have asked them. This is 1883 words of horrible terrible journalism.

On the Post web site today,
a former intern boasts that she served as an intern with Horwitz, who is now a Pulitzer winner. Does this lengthy, garbled report seem like the work of a Pulitzer winner?

Sadly, it seems that way to us. This is very much the way our modern “elite” press corps works.

They've worked this way for a very long time. In part for that reason, The Dumb and The Crazy pretty much rule our world.

Right above Horwitz: Right above Horwitz on page A2, this column by Dana Milbank appears.

The piece is 100 percent “storyline.” Read in any other way, it simply doesn’t make sense.

(The very familiar storyline: Grimes has finally started to fight! If only she’d done this all along!)

Horwitz owns three Pulitzer prizes. Milbank’s a star outta Yale.

This is the way our press elite works. The Dumb and The Crazy are ruling our world because of the sloth of these ’dogs.


  1. Perhaps the problem is that there is no source of information available to reporters who want to close the gaps in their stories. The only people supplying info are those who are leaking and they are not necessarily good sources (e.g., unbiased, well-informed, willing to be identified). If so, the difficulty is that an editor is assigning these writers to put together an article with insufficient access to info. Should they be admitting their deficiencies or should they be printing nothing? If there is public demand for info, should they be ignoring it? I'm not sure it is right to blame the reporters in this situation.

    1. "I'm not sure it is right to blame the reporters in this situation."

      But it surely IS right to notice the ways in which this "journalism" is awful, no?

    2. "Awful" compared to what?

    3. There is a great deal more argument and racial animosity being provoked in the absence of solid information than there might have been with a straightforward account of who said what and how the evidence applies. That cannot be given because of the silence surrounding the grand jury testimony and the suspect leaking by both the Brown family lawyers and the Ferguson PD (and associated officials). It would be nice if folks would stop all the speculation but that isn't realistic, so I think race relations are suffering.

    4. And here I actually thought you were talking about journalism and planned to offer some you considered good.

    5. At TalkLeft the speculation is that the feds have been leaking. You might ask yourself why they would be doing that.

    6. Why would TalkLeft be speculating?

      The same reason a male dog licks its pair?

  2. Weren't Uncles Walter and Brinkley manning the gates when the Genovese case was reported?

    1. No. They didn't work at the NY Times, which misreported that case.

    2. In theory we only needed two. At least in practice they are the only ones Bob ever mentions.

  3. Nick Moore AgreshunOctober 23, 2014 at 6:08 PM

    Horrible. History. Changing. Journalism.

  4. "The Dumb and the Crazy are ruling our world because the sloth of these dogs."

    "The Rich and the Greedy are ruling our world because of the fealty of these dogs."

    There, fixed.

    1. I think the subhumans on the blogosphere deserve some of the credit.

  5. I watched Melinek on the Last Word. I thought she was very consistent and stuck to the facts. Lawrence definitely has an agenda andwas irate when she said the evidence was consistent with Wilsons statement.

    1. Of course, the evidence is also consistent with Michael Brown's version of events. Oh wait, he's dead. I guess that makes Darren Wilson's account more credible. Doesn't it? Whatever happened, I think the guy with the gun who killed the other guy (without the gun) has a lot of explaining to do.

  6. I enjoyed Lawrence becoming frustrated and irate when Melinek said the evidence was consistent with Wilson.

  7. "And then the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face, like some rhino-hunters I know or Belmonte, who is truly brave... It is because they make love with sufficient passion, to push death out of their minds... until it returns, as it does, to all men... and then you must make really good love again." --Ernest Hemingway, per Woody Allen.

    Let reporting consist of nothing but verbatim quotes and the reporter's personal witness. Then the Sunday Times will fit into our hip pockets--

    --Unless it should also consist of every question for which there was no answer.